The chairwoman of a new bipartisan House Committee that will look into the operation of the Water Patrol division of the state Highway Patrol says that committee is about more than any one incident – even the drowning of an Iowa man while in Water Patrol custody back in May.
One thing specifically identified as a target of the committee in the media release announcing it is the training received by Water Patrol troopers.
Eight days before that release was issued, Trooper Anthony Piercy told a coroner’s inquest he hadn’t received enough training in how to make arrests on the water, how to put a life jacket on a suspect or what to do in a rescue situation. The inquest was investigating the drowning of 20-year-old Brandon Ellingson, while in Piercy’s custody on the Lake of the Ozarks.
Franklin says it wasn’t just that, nor any other particular incident, that led to the committee’s formation, “But I think that there’s just a culmination of items that have happened, and as we move into committee and we have testimony, we will hear those things.”
On the subject of training, Franklin does say prior to merging with the Highway Patrol the Water Patrol’s academy was recognized as one of the finest in the country.
“We’re interested not in looking at a particular situation, but being able to compare the training that we were recognized for across the nation with the training that is in place today, and to see what are the differences,” says Franklin.
Franklin says there has already been opposition by many in the Lake of the Ozarks area to the merger. Much of it stems from work done by a former area state representative, Robert Cooper, to advance the Water Patrol.
She says Cooper, “worked extensively with the Water Patrol to bring about parity in their pay … and to extend their law enforcement abilities beyond the water’s edge.”
When that merger happened it was projected to save the state between $2.8-million and $3-million annually. The committee will explore whether that savings has been realized.
Franklin thinks the better question is whether the Water Patrol is doing enough to keep people safe and meeting its responsibilities as a law enforcement agency.
She says answering that is the higher priority for her committee. “Is this a savings, but is it a savings at what cost? Are we getting the value we had before out of the dollars that are being spent.”
Depending on what her committee finds, Franklin says solutions could be anything up to a bill proposing to undo that merger, “if that’s what it takes.”
“But we need to examine that. I’m not saying that’s our goal,” adds Franklin. “Our goal is to investigate, have results, and from those results, make decisions.”
She expects to have a report ready before the new legislative session begins in January.